The One of my most unusual activities involves the creation of spreadsheets from the CIA Factbook comparing different countries in their levels of socioeconomic development and quality of life (Lab 2-3: Development and Quality of Life). When I first tried this activity on my students I made them create the whole spreadsheet from scratch, and split the work rather inefficiently. There was a lot of groaning, but the long-term rewards more than made up for it. The worldly perspective my students acquired enhanced all the class discussions that followed. In one of my earlier postings (Quick and Dirty Spreadsheets, March 15, 2013) I show how this activity can be abbreviated and simplified to complete it in one three-hour period. Though to date I am unaware of any other environmental science lab manual that incorporates data on human development, my activity was inspired by several chapters in the textbook by Richard Wright (Environmental Science: Towards a Sustainable Future, 9th Edition, Pearson Prentice Hall, 2005). These include Chapter 5 (Human Population), Chapter 6 (Promoting Development), and Chapter 22 (Economic, Policy, and the Environment). A section in Chapter 22 (Resources and the Wealth of Nations) presents a thought-provoking study from the World Bank about how countries acquire their wealth. Sources for a country's wealth are divided into three categories: natural resources (such as petroleum, forests, and fisheries), produced capital (machinery and infrastructure), and intangible capital (such as education and political institutions). Intangible capital was calculated by subtracting the sum of the other two sources of wealth from the gross domestic product. In effect, they call it "intangible" capital because even though its overall value is very real, the components that make up this category are not easily itemized. According to the World Bank, the main source of wealth in OECD countries is intangible capital Reason Magazine wrote a nice summary based on these conclusions.

The 9th edition of Chapter 22 is better than the 10th edition of Wright's textbook because this earlier edition follows more closely the original intent of the World Bank study by (roughly) breaking down regions of the world along the lines of culture and socioeconomics, thereby shedding light on the relationship between culture, policy, and development. Since some of the implications were politically incorrect, the 10th edition was sanitized to remove this distinction (my conclusion). I don't want to put to much blame on the author because it is one of the best textbooks I know. More than likely it was an editorial decision beyond his control. At any rate I strongly recommend you take a look at the uncensored version of the World Bank study “Where is the Wealth of Nations?”. The article is long and dense, so I suggest you go straight to the tables on pages 20, 21, 26, and 29. You might be shocked to find that some countries (such as Nigeria and the Republic of Congo) have a negative level of intangible capital. Some people will no doubt feel uncomfortable with this data because it can be misinterpreted to reflect badly on the "quality" of the population. I do not draw these conclusions because having travelled and lived in less affluent countries I have seen first-hand how human capital is wasted when ideologues and kleptocrats are in charge.

How relevant is all this to environmental science? Even if you are using a textbook that puts less emphasis on human development, addressing issues like overpopulation, deforestation, the outsourcing of “dirty” industries, or relationship between affluence and resource consumption requires a deep understanding of poverty and underdevelopment. Given that the College Board accepted the lab syllabus I submitted in 2009 I can't be too far off track!